Lost Restaurants of Greater Miami: Part II

By Seth H. Bramson

The growth of Greater Miami was nothing short of phenomenal, beginning almost immediately following World War I, and it was that growth that brought about the great Florida “boom” of the early to mid-1920s. In retrospect, most American historians now recognize and agree that the tremendous American boom of the twenties actually began in South Florida, just as “the five terrible events” of 1926 in Miami would be the harbinger of the Great Depression that would envelop the rest of the country beginning with the October, 1929 stock market crash. So, the astute reader might ask, “what does that have to do with our topic?” and the answer, of course and seriously, is “everything.”

As the 1920s unfolded, the advertising of the Florida East Coast Railway brought multi-thousands of people into the place where, as the FEC advertised, “summer spends the winter,” and it was here in greater South Florida, but particularly Greater Miami, that said boom would envelop the area. And with all of those people pouring in, enticed not just by the railroad but by the fabled and famous developers — Carl Fisher on Miami Beach; George Merrick in Coral Gables; Harvey Baker Graves in Sunny Isles; Ellen Spears Harris and Hugh Anderson with their Shoreland Company building Miami Shores; Merle Tebbetts in Fulford-by-the-Sea, later North Miami Beach; Glenn Curtiss in Hialeah, Miami Springs and Opa Locka, as well as others who would spend literally millions not only to advertise their particular piece of heaven, but to build. And what did they build? Cities and towns, including homes, apartment buildings, offices, streets, parks and more. And now we begin to realize that all of those people needed places to eat and not just food stores in which to buy food, hence the development of Greater Miami as a great restaurant town would begin.

At first, there were bars and taverns serving food, followed by cafes and small dining rooms, a pluperfect example being the Wonder Bar Café at 23 N. E. First Avenue in the Shoreland Arcade. Advertising “Excellent Food” and “Popular Prices,” the menu featured a hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes or broiled kingfish with mashed potatoes for $.20 (Yes, you read it right!) A broiled T-bone steak or two lamb chops with French fried potatoes and salad were each $.35. Dessert was five or ten cents and coffee or tea was five cents. Hard to believe, but that was how it was in so many places in the 1920s.

As the area grew and multi-story buildings became commonplace, rooftop restaurants became popular including the Marine Roof Garden Café atop the Professional Building in downtown Miami, its claim to fame being “Unequaled for open-air dining, dancing and great food.” Competition abounded — a fine example of a storefront operation being the Metropolitan Café at Northeast Second Avenue and Second Street, famous for its 18-seat counter on one side, the bar on the other side and tables in the front for those who wanted to dine rather than just enjoy a snack. The eateries proliferated, and even during Prohibition, Miamians had no problem finding a spot at which liquor could be purchased.

📷: Photo Courtesy of Seth H. Bramson

“The growth of Greater Miami, from “the beginning” in 1896 to and through the early to mid-1950s was due, almost entirely, to the promotion and advertising of the Florida East Coast Railway, “America’s Speedway to Sunshine.” The menu is an example of the wonderful food served in the dining cars of that famous railroad, which, with marvelous service, helped to entice multi-thousands to come to, vacation in and move to the Miami area.”